Community Action Partnership of North Alabama CEO Tim Thrasher has been aware of the many challenges brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, both professionally and personally. He is also aware of the continued effects of the pandemic on agency programs, staff, and the families served. As the 2020 calendar year began to wind down, the CAPNA CEO decided to step up and reach out to those staff serving on the front lines each and every day.
Beginning in November, Tim and agency photographer/videographer Josh Garretson set out to capture the essence of Children’s Services in the midst of a pandemic. What they found was evidence of continued high-quality early childhood services that have long been the norm. Staff were masked, cleaning efforts were beefed up, and children were learning.
Here is some of the conversation we had with Tim about his goodwill tour:
CAP Connection: Why did you decide to tour the classrooms?
Tim Thrasher: I was on a WOW team call and heard a Center Director talk about how the challenges of the coronavirus were draining on the emotions of their staff due to wearing masks, social distancing, isolation, etc. I decided based on the needs expressed by this Director for encouragement and support for her staff and based on my desire to see our services firsthand, that I would attempt to visit all of our classrooms before year end. In effect, the pandemic allowed me to step back and see the need and afforded me the time to make it happen for our amazing staff!
CC: What stood out to you when you visited the classrooms?
TT: I was so impressed as I visited classrooms in regard to the resilience of the children and staff. I was especially impressed with our Classroom personnel as they continued to support families through intentional learning opportunities and structure. The staffs’ display of sincere care for the children and overall passion for serving others was very evident. The children’s ability to adapt to new scheduling, masks, and their positive response to their instructors was exciting to witness. A couple of instances that stand out were when I crawled on the floor through a maze of boxes with the children, when I played catch with another child helping him to catch, and of course the new interactive dance moves modeled to me by the children.
CC: What is the feedback you are getting from staff?
TT: The staff were very receptive to my visits and appreciated the support. I am grateful for all the emails, cards and comments received. The visits seemed like they accomplished the encouragement and support for those in the trenches each day!
CC: What are the biggest challenges staff are facing?
TT: Many staff had or were facing struggles with their health, their family’s health, the children’s safety, the fear of contracting the virus, or the fear of a loved one having COVID-19. One of the biggest challenges for those I spoke with was instructing students/families remotely and the additional time involved.
CC: What has impressed you the most?
TT: The respect I felt as I visited not only for myself and those in the central office, but for the children and their individual team members. I was very impressed with the structure and the resilience of all involved. I was also impressed with the overall experience and dedication of our staff and leadership.
CC: Any anecdotes from teachers, children, families, etc.?
One teacher commented that “We are one big family and family works together even during COVID.” Another stated that “It has been difficult but I feel supported.” When I asked what they needed, the majority replied, “I can’t think of anything,” but I also got “a raise, a turkey, a bonus, classroom furniture, a new sign, help with the unemployment process, etc.” I think we covered all of these this year except for the turkey, as it would have been a logistical nightmare to ship turkeys to our almost 400 [classroom] staff members.
Tim sums up his reflections on the goodwill classroom tour by saying, “[I am] So proud of the work our organization does to bring high quality education into the homes of families with children who have the potential to one day make this world a better place! Thanks to all the Leaders, classroom and support personnel making this happen! Special thanks to Deborah Cottingham for scheduling and to Josh for his video/photography skills. As CEO, I loved my visits and was reminded of the need for high quality educators and services for the families we serve! I still have a few more classrooms to go as a handful were closed early in December due to the rise in the virus. I truly look forward to my upcoming visits and learning more from our dedicated staff. “
From the initial shutdown in mid-March, classroom staff have put their creativity into overdrive to ensure their families are served by Head Start. From home deliveries of learning materials and other supplies to virtual classrooms through online platforms, Children’s Services staff have held the torch and forged ahead to answer their calling: Getting young children and their families ready for school and ready for life.
As the coronavirus pandemic continues its unrelenting hold on populations around the world, Partnership staff continue to go above and beyond to provide vital services to the most at risk. The CEO goodwill tour confirmed what most already knew: CAPNA continues to serve, continues to support, and continues to set the bar a little higher with each challenge it faces.